IZIUM, Ukraine – Explorers are discovering what appears to be one of the largest mass burial sites Ukraine Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday that there was evidence of atrocities, including atrocities, on lands recently taken back from Russia.
In a video he apparently ran to underline the seriousness of the discoveries just hours after the excavations began, Zelensky said that hundreds of civilian adults and children, as well as soldiers, were “tortured, shot and killed” near Izyum’s Pishchanske cemetery. , was found killed by shelling”. , He cited evidence of atrocities, such as a body with a rope around its neck and broken arms.
In the video, Zelensky said that more than 400 graves have been found at the site, but the number of victims is not yet known. Zelensky, who visited the Izium region on Wednesday, said the discoveries again showed world leaders the need to declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia would continue the war, despite the success of a recent Ukrainian counter-offensive.
Speaking to reporters on Friday after attending a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Putin said Russia’s main goal is the “liberation” of the entire region of Donbass, Ukraine’s eastern industrial region.
He said that “we are in no hurry” to achieve the stated goals, noting that Russia only involved volunteer troops in the operation.
Digging in the rain, workers pulled the carcass out of sandy soil in a pine forest near Izium. Protected by a full-body suit and rubber gloves, he felt gently through the dismembered remains of the victims’ clothing, seemingly looking for things that could identify him.
Ukrainian forces gained access to the site after re-capturing much of the northeastern city and the wider Kharkiv region, which suddenly shifted momentum throughout the nearly seven-month war. Ukrainian authorities also found evidence of torture elsewhere in the region. The United Nations Human Rights Office said it would investigate.
Associated Press reporters visiting the Iseum site saw graves among pine trees, marked with simple wooden crosses. Most were numbered in the 400s.
Most of those buried were believed to be civilians, but a marker on a mass grave said it contained the bodies of 17 Ukrainian soldiers.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, the war continued to claim lives and destruction.
– Ukraine’s presidential office said five civilians were killed and 18 others were injured in Russian shelling in the span of 24 hours. Missile strikes were also reported along Zelensky’s hometown of Krivi Rih for the third consecutive day on Friday. Air raid sirens also resonated in the capital Kyiv.
– More killings were reported targeting pro-Russian separatist officials in areas under their control. Separatist officials said the prosecutor-general of the self-proclaimed republic was killed in an explosion in the Luhansk region. Moscow-backed officials said two Russian-established officers were also killed in Burdiansk, a city in the Zaporizhzhya region already captured in the war. And local officials reported at least one person killed and 10 wounded in a Ukrainian missile attack on an administrative building in Russian-occupied Kherson.
– To bolster the Ukrainian offensive, the Biden administration announced another $600 million package of military aid.
Izium resident Sergei Gorodko said hundreds of people buried in individual graves included dozens of adults and children who were killed in Russian airstrikes on an apartment building.
He said he pulled some of them out of the rubble “with his own hands”.
Before excavation, investigators with metal detectors scanned the site for any hidden explosives. Soldiers tied red and white plastic tape between trees to mark parts of the site. Some tombs had garlands of flowers hanging on crosses, and some had people’s names inscribed on them.
Izium was a major supply center for the Russian military until they returned in more recent times. Izium city councilor Maxim Strelnikov told reporters that hundreds of people were killed during fighting and after Russia captured the city in March. He said many people did not get proper funerals.
His claims could not be immediately verified, but similar scenes have played out in other cities occupied by Russian forces, including Mariupol.
Strelnikov said countless people died from the lack of proper health care since “the city’s medical infrastructure was destroyed”. Most of the city’s pre-war population of 47,000 fled to Ukrainian-held territories. Strelnikov said 10,000 residents live in the ruined city – facing more hardship as winter approaches and most of the infrastructure destroyed.
Ukraine’s national police chief Ihor Klymenko said “torture chambers” had also been found in towns and villages occupied by the Kharkiv region. The claim could not be independently verified.
He said that seven Sri Lankan students who fell into Russian hands in the Kharkiv region in Kupiyansk have also said that they were captured and abused.
“They are scared, they have been abused,” he said. These include “a woman who can barely speak” and two with cracked toenails.
Ukraine’s Deputy Interior Minister Yevgeny Enin said bodies exhumed in the region showed “marks of violent death, but also of torture – cut off ears, etc. This is just the beginning.”
“All these traces of war crimes have now been carefully documented by us. And we know from Buka’s experience that the worst crimes can only be uncovered over time,” Enin said in an interview with Radio NV of Ukraine.
This story has been updated to correct that seven, not six, Sri Lankan students said they fell into Russian hands.
Associated Press journalists Hannah Arhirova and John Gambrel in Kiev and Jamie Keaton in Geneva contributed reporting.
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